Former Rockville Centre Mayor Leonard Sandel died peacefully in his home in the village last Saturday morning. He was 92.
A decorated World War II veteran who was always concerned about the well-being of his community, Sandel was a man of action. He was a longtime public servant, an advocate for senior citizens, veterans’ causes and Jewish interests. He was devoted to his wife of nearly 69 years, Lenore, who died last September, and their daughter, Susan.
Sandel was a Rockville Centre village trustee from 1967 to 1975 and mayor from 1979 to 1983, and also served as zoning board vice chairman for three years. Among his many accomplishments as mayor, he was most proud of reducing village taxes and leaving office with a budget surplus, overseeing the renovation of the Long Island Rail Road station, creating a senior citizen hotline, purchasing the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, renovating and expanding the senior citizen center that now bears his name, establishing a senior services outreach program and assisting needy tenants with Section 8 housing.
Mayor Francis Murray ordered that flags around the community be lowered to half staff when Sandel’s death became known on Saturday, and he also ordered police to escort his body from Gutterman’s Memorial Chapel to Beth David Cemetery, where funeral services took place on Monday morning. Village officials laid a wreath in Sandel’s honor at the Senior Center on South Park Avenue.
Prior to his tenure on the village board, Sandel served in many community organizations — the Lions Club, Guild for the Arts, the Historical Society and the Human Rights Commission among them. He was a past president of the Mid-Village Civic Association, the South Side Senior High School PTA and the Rockville Centre Youth Association. He and Lenore were lifetime members of Central Synagogue of Nassau County, and Leonard was a charter member of its Men’s Club.
Born in Brooklyn on Feb. 9, 1920, to Joseph and Clara Sandel, Leonard attended Lincoln High School and was enrolled in a program at St. John’s Law School when he enlisted in the Army. He married his sweetheart, Lenore Dukoff, his sister Marion’s sorority sister, in 1942. Just four weeks after Susan was born in 1944, Sandel shipped out to the European theater, where he earned a Bronze Star for “meritorious achievement” and many other medals.
After the war, he settled his family in Rockville Centre, moving in the day after Christmas 1946. He bought the property for his house, which had been a World War II victory garden, with a G.I. mortgage.
In a 1983 interview, Sandel attributed his involvement in village government to a $1 ticket he received for parking on the street only weeks after he had moved to Rockville Centre. He said he marched directly to Village Hall and argued with Justice Maurice Moore that his house was so new that a driveway had yet to be built. He paid the fine, but Moore was persuaded to send cinder to the neighborhood so driveways for Sandel’s and other new houses could be laid.
“Lenny is a true American hero and patriot,” said his neighbor and longtime friend Bob Baulch. “He personified what has become known as the Greatest Generation. Lenny was rightfully proud of his service to his nation and village, and his legacy will be rooted in his commitment to service.”
After retiring from and closing Statewide Metals Inc., the business he had established and owned for many years in Lynbrook, Sandel began a second career. He started a newspaper, Senior News, which he produced in his basement. It is now called Lifestyles and has a wide circulation, and Sandel is publisher emeritus. He was a member of the Society of Professional Journalists until he died.
Susan recalled her father’s sense of humor and said he was her role model for being a vital and healthy elder, regularly riding his stationary bike until two weeks before his death. She also recalled his pride at being able to fit into his Army uniform 70 years after it was issued to him. A dance movement therapist, Susan said that her father’s background and experience in the arts — he was an accomplished pianist — inspired her choice of a career.
Over the years, Sandel received numerous honors: He is included in the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., is recognized in the Walls of Honor in Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, and in 2008 he was inducted into the Long Island Volunteer Hall of Fame for his work on behalf of senior citizens, and specifically for creating the Friends of Senior Services Inc., known as FOSSI.
“When I think of Mayor Sandel, I think of the Abraham Lincoln quote, ‘I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him,’” said former Mayor Mary Bossart. “Mayor Sandel was undeniably proud of Rockville Centre. He was always an active and involved member of the community and concerned about all residents. I am proud to have known him, and Rockville Centre has benefited greatly through his contributions to our village.”
Former Mayor Gene Murray said, “Lenny was a very kind, thoughtful person, and he did an excellent job as a village trustee and a mayor. He always thought of everyone, but he made a special effort toward senior citizens, personally visiting shut-ins and working for senior housing. Before he left office he oversaw the building of 579 Merrick Road, senior housing with 50 apartments. Next door was vacant land, and he wanted to also have senior housing built on that site, but by that time the HUD program had dried up and there was no additional money for public housing. He also made sure all the village departments received proper equipment so they could do their jobs for the good of the residents of the village.”
“Because of Lenny’s vision, passion and dedication, the Sandel Center will continue to provide services to the older adults of Rockville Centre to support their independence and life satisfaction and promote vital aging,” said Dr. Cyd Charrow, director of the village’s Department of Senior Services. “It is with great sadness that the Executive Committee, members and staff of Rockville Centre Sandel Center and FOSSI board mourn the passing of our great friend, advocate and namesake Leonard Sandel.
“On a personal note,” Charrow added, “for 27 years, Lenny was my mentor, my friend and my supportive substitute dad. I will miss him greatly.”
“I met Lenny Sandel when I was a young man,” said Mayor Francis Murray. “He was a man of great conviction, and he was always impressive. He was a tremendous asset to the community — he tutored my father and he tutored me on the fine points of being mayor. Rockville Centre has truly lost a cornerstone of the village. He will be sorely missed.”
In addition to Susan, Sandel leaves behind a sister, Marion Doan, nieces, nephews, grand-nieces, grand-nephews and cousins, and a devoted caregiver, Ena Buchanan.
Monday’s funeral was followed by a military burial at Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, where Sandel was interred in his Army uniform, next to Lenore. Susan said that contributions to celebrate the life of her father may be made to Friends of Senior Services Inc., 50 South Park Ave., Rockville Centre, N.Y. 11570 or Central Synagogue of Nassau County, 430 DeMott Ave., Rockville Centre.